Equally terrifying and captivating.

The brightest torches burn quickly.

Readers barely have a chance to get to know 17-year-old Pavol Bartoš, a young man whose bright future was extinguished when the oppressive Czechoslovak Communist Party, or KSČ, government denied his application to attend university and instead directed him to report for duty as a miner. Fueled by a desire to confront the unfair, authoritarian regime and guided by altruistic (if innocent) ideals, Pavol and his friends draft a letter that they plan to present to the government office in Prague Castle. When this plan falls apart, Pavol is resigned to what he believes is his last, terrible option: death. Pavol follows the example of real-life activist Jan Palach, a student who set himself ablaze in 1969 as an act of political protest against the KSČ. Pavol’s untimely death has unforeseen consequences for his friends—gay former school bully Štěpán; bookish neurodiverse Tomáš; and Pavol’s newly pregnant girlfriend, Lída. Readers will be on the edges of their seats with fear as they follow the social, psychological, and physical fallout for this trio as they deal with the consequences of Pavol’s actions while fighting for their own brief moments of happiness and hope. The story presents an unflinching look at the toll of authoritarianism; it’s a tale that will inspire readers to examine modern politics and the need for people to stand up for personal rights before human torches are once again lit.

Equally terrifying and captivating. (discussion questions, author’s note, historical note) (Historical fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-72841-568-0

Page Count: 328

Publisher: Carolrhoda

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022


A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind.

In this companion novel to 2013’s If He Had Been With Me, three characters tell their sides of the story.

Finn’s narrative starts three days before his death. He explores the progress of his unrequited love for best friend Autumn up until the day he finally expresses his feelings. Finn’s story ends with his tragic death, which leaves his close friends devastated, unmoored, and uncertain how to go on. Jack’s section follows, offering a heartbreaking look at what it’s like to live with grief. Jack works to overcome the anger he feels toward Sylvie, the girlfriend Finn was breaking up with when he died, and Autumn, the girl he was preparing to build his life around (but whom Jack believed wasn’t good enough for Finn). But when Jack sees how Autumn’s grief matches his own, it changes their understanding of one another. Autumn’s chapters trace her life without Finn as readers follow her struggles with mental health and balancing love and loss. Those who have read the earlier book will better connect with and feel for these characters, particularly since they’ll have a more well-rounded impression of Finn. The pain and anger is well written, and the novel highlights the most troublesome aspects of young adulthood: overconfidence sprinkled with heavy insecurities, fear-fueled decisions, bad communication, and brash judgments. Characters are cued white.

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind. (author’s note, content warning) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781728276229

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024


There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.

The finely drawn characters capture readers’ attention in this debut.

Autumn and Phineas, nicknamed Finny, were born a week apart; their mothers are still best friends. Growing up, Autumn and Finny were like peas in a pod despite their differences: Autumn is “quirky and odd,” while Finny is “sweet and shy and everyone like[s] him.” But in eighth grade, Autumn and Finny stop being friends due to an unexpected kiss. They drift apart and find new friends, but their friendship keeps asserting itself at parties, shared holiday gatherings and random encounters. In the summer after graduation, Autumn and Finny reconnect and are finally ready to be more than friends. But on August 8, everything changes, and Autumn has to rely on all her strength to move on. Autumn’s coming-of-age is sensitively chronicled, with a wide range of experiences and events shaping her character. Even secondary characters are well-rounded, with their own histories and motivations.

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.   (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4022-7782-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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